With camps canceled and day care centers and playgrounds closed, little ones have fewer opportunities to get the wiggles out these days. Which is not good for anyone: Toddlers, whose ages range from 1 (when they start “toddling,” i.e., walking) to about 3, when they typically begin preschool, don’t really pay attention for long periods of time, so “they definitely need to be active and constantly moving,” according to Dr. Giselle Trados, a physical therapist and founder of In-Home Pediatric Physical Therapy of New Jersey. Parents and caregivers know this all too well, particularly those who live in a city where outdoor-space access is limited. So if you can’t bring them to Gymboree, what are the best ways to recreate your very own Gymboree at home?
We spoke to pediatric physical therapists like Tadros, along with other experts including a play therapist and a gymnastics instructor, about the toys and equipment that most strongly encourage active play for both younger and older toddlers. And while you can very well DIY a complete kiddie gymnasium with the following list, your home doesn’t have to be permanently overturned, as many of these recommendations are collapsible and/or closet friendly. Shop the options according to what you think your kid would enjoy best or what type of developmental benefit (e.g., balance, focus, imaginative play) they need most.
For ages 1 and 2
Things for bouncing
All four of our experts agree that a trampoline is a great piece of equipment for toddlers (as long as it’s used safely and always under adult supervision.) Play therapist Joseph Sacks says that while older kids can spend endless hours jumping on them, trampolines are great even for toddlers as young as 1, or once they start walking. Mina Marsow, owner of Prospect Gymnastics in Brooklyn, agrees that a small trampoline “is a great option to burn a lot of energy and increase core strength.” Speaking of which: Engaging their core is key to trampoline safety, Marsow notes. In order to get them to do so, Marsow recommends having your child first practice jumping while holding a soft object like a pillow or stuffed animal above their heads. “Or you can tell your kid to push their belly button into their back,” she adds. Also in the name of safety, Sacks says to make sure your trampoline choice is one that has padding around the metal frame, like this model from Avenor. For even more peace of mind, pediatric physical therapist Alexandra Buwalda, recommends a bar attachment, so that kids can hold onto it while they bounce.
Buwalda also recommends Rody, an inflatable horse that’s very low to the ground “and very child friendly”; perfect for young toddlers who can hold onto it and get on by themselves. From there they can either bounce up and down, or move the horse onto its side and use it like a roller. Buwalda likes that it encourages pretend play, like: “You can tell them to feed the horsey,” she says. (For a less expensive option, check out the bouncy horse that made our list of the best toys for 3-year-olds.)